Joel Embiid was not pleased with himself after Wednesday's 123-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors, in which the Sixers scored 40 points in the final quarter to make the score look more respectable. Embiid finished with nine points on 3-for-6 shooting plus six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and four turnovers -- the first single-digit scoring night of his 16-game career.
"I think for once, since I've played for the Sixers, I didn't trust the process tonight," Embiid said, via the Bucks County Courier Times' Tom Moore. "I was just standing. I wasn't moving. I was just standing on the perimeter, I wasn't active on defense."
This self-criticism isn't notable simply because of the funny (and sort of heartbreaking) quote. This was the first time that Embiid had started next to Philadelphia big man Jahlil Okafor. For 17 of Embiid's 27 minutes, the two of them shared the frontcourt and Embiid essentially played power forward. It didn't look like a particularly comfortable partnership defensively, and Embiid was not involved nearly enough offensively.
Extremely small sample size alert: While the Sixers scored just fine against the Raptors with the two bigs together, they gave up 115.5 points per 100 possessions and were destroyed on the glass -- they only grabbed half the defensive rebounds that were available. If you're going to go ultra-big in the modern NBA, you need to dominate your opponent on the boards, not the other way around.
A few thoughts:
- Let's not judge this too harshly just yet. The two of them have played together in just three games and for 32 total minutes. Embiid's ability to space the floor theoretically opens things up for Okafor in the post, and Embiid's ability to protect the rim theoretically makes up for some of Okafor's offensive shortcomings. I'm skeptical that it can really work, but if they can figure out the rebounding thing, it's possible.
- If this is a disaster, what's the big deal? Philadelphia isn't going anywhere this season, so it has little to lose by experimenting. This at least allows coach Brett Brown to give Okafor more minutes, in order to showcase him for a possible trade.
- Nerlens Noel sat out against Toronto with a left ankle sprain, but is listed as day-to-day. He has only been healthy enough to play once this season, on Sunday in Detroit, and Embiid was resting. When he comes back, there will be even more of a logjam, and Brown will have to mix and match these three centers while still using Ersan Ilyasova as a stretch 4. In no way is this ideal, but this is the consequence for the organization failing to find a suitable trade for Okafor or Noel.
- The most alarming thing about this first game was that Embiid was marginalized. On the season, he is averaging 19.6 shots per 36 minutes with a usage rate of 36 percent. He should never take only six shots in a game on this team. Maybe some of that was Embiid not asserting himself like he should, but if the Sixers are going to try this again -- and Brown said he would -- they need to make a concerted effort to use their best player.